Mind Your Communications Models

Church Marketing Sucks has long been a premier forum for church communications. So any studies they release bear notice.

A few days ago, CMS released some preliminary results of its Church Communication Survey, which attracted 766 responses. Two things caught my eye that point to acute issues for any church searching for answers to communication issues. The first was this line:

“Nearly 40% of the churches represented had an average weekend attendance over 1,000. The largest concentrations were in the 200 to 1,000 range.”

Here’s why that matters. According to a study on church size described by Fast Facts About American Religion, published by Hartford Seminary—a leader in studying American congregations—less than 3 percent of the churches that people attend in the US are in congregations with more than 1,000 worshipers.

Why are so many of those surveyed by CMS in such large congregations, when the vast majority of people attending congregations do not attend these mega-churches? In all likelihood it is because the CMS study is not statistically sound in its sample size, as the report profiled by Hartford Seminary is.

This is not a problem for CMS, so long as in the final report they indicate that the report is not statistically valid. But is should give congregations using the final report, when it is released, something to think about.

When planning your communications needs, it’s important that you consider the size of the institutions that you look to for inspiration. Bigger churches have more income at their disposal, larger staffs, and the ability to invest in high-end technology, which gives the illusion of effectiveness—perhaps it is, perhaps it isn’t.

it’s important that you consider the size of the institutions that you look to for inspiration.

Looking to these institutions as models can generate a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mindset, while taking your eye off of the things that really matter when it comes to communications success—both disseminating information to, and learning things about, the church you work in.

The second point worth noting is this one: “Design-savvy: We asked what other roles these communicators have had in their careers and designer topped the list. Low on the list? Copywriter and church pastor.” (Find the breakdown here.)

This suggests that design is going to be important in the communications take-aways that come from this study. Again, this is not to suggest that design is unimportant—it matters a great deal, and I am an admirer of well-designed sites.

But should design be the most important thing on your mind when analyzing your communications’ needs? Rather than a first-level concern, I would suggest that it is a second-level concern. Once the communications house is in order, then the finishing touches can be applied, the pretty paints laid down, and the furniture arranged just so. But good design will not take the place of a well-executed communications strategy that produces two-way learning.

should design be the most important thing on your mind when analyzing your communications’ needs?

The findings with the CMS study are preliminary—let’s not jump the gun on what the final study will show or claim. As with everything that Brad Abare does with this group, I am sure that they will be careful with their claims and their data. Moreover, valuable information will emerge.

But when thinking about your own communication plans, don’t forget to be careful that your models for success are of comparable size and focused on outcomes that will deliver not just looks, but substantive information that leads to invigorated ministries.

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